When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.
And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young menSeptuagint cattle and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles." And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, "Obey their voice and make them a king." Samuel then said to the men of Israel, "Go every man to his city."
1 Samuel 8:1-22
The opening of 1 Samuel 8 sounds familiar. When the passage was read this past Sunday, I thought: “Didn’t we just do this a few weeks ago, I know how this story goes: a leader has become old and sets his wicked sons up to follow in his footsteps, but God is working behind the scenes to prepare another man to take his place.”
The reader should remember that this was the exact environment that the LORD used to raise up Samuel (1 Samuel 2-3). However, this time when the elders looked around and saw the wickedness of the new judges, they wanted to take matters into their own hands. Either 1) they were not willing to wait to see what and how the LORD would provide. Or 2) they could not see what the LORD was doing, and maybe they forgot about the ways that he provided for them in the past. One timeline I found suggests that it had been nearly 50 years since the LORD graciously provided Samuel to the people in the place of Hophni and Phinehas. Either way, they wanted something visible, measurable, and comprehensible. They did not want to, or felt that it was unwise, to trust and wait. Thus, they chose their own king.
The desire of the elders for a king was not forbidden. Nevertheless, this desire was clearly a rejection of God being king over them (1 Samuel 8:7) and a lack of trust in His provision and promise. Moses prophetically established rules to govern a king for the young nation of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Of note in that section is that the king is not to acquire many horses, wives, or silver, and he is to read the law of the LORD all of days of his life that he “may not be lifted up above his brothers.”
We know the LORD is sovereignly preparing a king after His own heart who will lead the people well, but this new king hasn’t been born yet. The elders were not willing to wait to see what the LORD would do and took matters into their own hands. The unwillingness to trust in the LORD results in great cost.
Through prayer, the LORD reveals to Samuel that the king they set up will take from the people. He will not follow the rules laid out by Moses: “he will take your sons… he will take your daughters… he will take the best of your fields… he will take the tenth of your grain… he will take your male servants… donkeys… he will take the tenth of your flocks.” Ultimately, Samuel says “and you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel 8:17). If we put our trust in any ruler, power, or authority other than the sovereign king, it will enslave us.